BROOKE GLADSTONE: When the U.S. government put up its newly-hatched Iraqi media network proposal for bid last year, it chose a radio and TV equipment company called Harris Corp, which teamed up with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation to run the network. It did not choose veteran journalist Steven Schwartz, much to his chagrin. Schwartz, author of The Two Faces of Islam, and a regular contributor to the conservative Weekly Standard, had spent time in Bosnia as a reporter and representative of the United Federation of Journalists, and later in Kosovo as a reporter and an advisor to the Kosovo Association of Journalists. He says that what happened in Bosnia offers an object lesson in how not to launch a free and independent media, and he says we're making the same mistakes in Iraq. Steven Schwartz, welcome to the show.
STEVEN SCHWARTZ: I'm very pleased to be here.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, you worked on the creation of the new media in Bosnia following that war--
STEVEN SCHWARTZ: Yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- with Simon Haselock, a Brit who has since been drafted by the United States to help re-create Iraqi media.
STEVEN SCHWARTZ: Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, last summer you wrote that he's making the same mistakes in Iraq that he previously made in Bosnia.
STEVEN SCHWARTZ: Oh, yes. You know, I like Simon very much, because even though Simon made a terrible mess in Bosnia, Simon was compelled to actually do the right thing in Kosovo. There was a big difference, and I can very quickly explain the difference. In Bosnia, what you had was X Communist bureaucracy media left over from the Tito regime. The foreigners had this attitude, which I think also they have in Iraq, that the Bosnians were not responsible; that the Bosnians didn't know how to do media. And they came in with the attitude that they had to set up a bureaucracy that would administer the Bosnian media. That effort failed. The bureaucracy didn't work. The Bosnian media fell back into all the bad habits of the old Communist regime. It became ideological media. In Kosovo, it was different, because Milosevic had done the Albanians an unintentional favor by shutting down their language media. The Albanian journalists had all gone to the West and had learned how to be Western-style, modern, independent, responsible journalists, and in Kosovo you had a situation a lot like Iraq. You had a big upsurge of media.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They had a huge Albanian diaspora to help support media when it finally got re-launched.
STEVEN SCHWARTZ:This is a very important point. The Bosnian media became dependent upon foreign funding. In Kosovo, there was a large diaspora, and the Albanian media was not dependent on foreign funding.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And in Iraq?
STEVEN SCHWARTZ:And Iraq, there's no reason that the Iraqi media should be dependent on foreign funding. A country that can produce a hundred to 200 newspapers and magazines after the fall of the dictatorship is a country that's full of resources and full of entrepreneurship and full of the will to create a media. What I'm saying is, is they should do in Iraq what they were compelled to do in Kosovo, which is essentially just leave the media alone. Let the journalists be journalists --there is a place for foreign experts as mentors, as teachers, as advisers -- but the project will only work in Iraq if the Iraqis can develop free institutions. It's not for us to give.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So the big story about the Iraqi media this week is the walkout by the editor and much of the staff of Al Sabah -- that's the newspaper run by the U.S.-funded Iraqi Media Network. Now, before the editor and the staff walked out, it published a detailed critique of the media laws that are said to be imposed in Iraq. In particular, they mentioned Coalition Decree Number 65.
STEVEN SCHWARTZ: Well, Decree Number 65, which is a classic Simon Haselock-type decree, basically gives the Coalition and its successor, the Government of Iraq, regulatory control over print media, broadcasting, coverage of elections, mobile telephone services, internet providers and internet cafes. This is from Al Sabah's editorial: (quote) "This commission will be lawmaker, prosecutor and judge. In order to be prosecutor and judge, this commission will need considerable staff to monitor television and radio programs and read the newspapers and weeklies." (Unquote.) This means that this communications and media commission will be a state within the state, bigger than Saddam's Ministry of Information, and, to be perfectly blunt, this is a Middle Eastern country where government ministries are magnets for corruption.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Steven I can see everything that's wrong with this commission, but you say that the alternative is that Iraq should have laws like ours that say First Amendment expression should only be curbed in cases of direct incitement of violence and libel. But we're talking about a country in the midst of chaos - a country that is at war not just with the coalition but with itself in many cases. When you have a newspaper that cites so-called eyewitnesses that say American helicopters fired missiles into a UN compound when it was demonstrably not the case, don't you think that somebody needs to step in and say this is wrong -- you can't say things like that, or is that the price of freedom?
STEVEN SCHWARTZ: You know, when we look back at the history of our own country, when the First Amendment was promulgated in the United States, this was a pretty chaotic country. We had come out of the Revolution; there were rebellions; there were Indian wars; slave rebellions had begun -- there had been many examples of countries that have had civil conflicts that have not surrendered the freedom of the press. I think that it's better to have a free press that says some irresponsible things and to have them out in the open, because in fighting against the extremists in Iraq, we need to know what the extremists are thinking and saying. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we can't have complete media freedom in Iraq today. But my view is, we should at least start from the position --as journalists, we must start from the position of advocating for the maximum possible freedom, rather than starting from the position of assuming the maximum possible control.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But I guess that depends on what the coalition really wants. Do they want a flourishing media, or do they want better public relations for the United States?
STEVEN SCHWARTZ: You're right. They have to choose. They have to decide what it is they want to do, and I think they should decide in favor of helping Iraq develop a flourishing, independent media -- even if that media is critical of the United States and the coalition. Paul Wolfowitz has put it this way, and I agree with him. If we really believe that we're doing this to create democracy, then we have to accept the, the consequences, if the people in that democracy get angry at us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. Steven Schwartz, thank you very much.
STEVEN SCHWARTZ: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Steven Schwartz is the author of The Two Faces of Islam and frequent contributor to the Weekly Standard.
BOB GARFIELD:Coming up, the media seem in a hurry to bury candidate Kerry. One image advisor says he should be appealing to our inner crocodile.